Book Review

Book Review: The Greenest Branch

I wish I had written this book and I can think of no higher praise.

The Greenest Branch as a fictional account of Hildegard of Bingen, a young, spirited oblate who overcomes more than just her gender to become Germany’s first female physician. Written in two parts, The Greenest Branch covers how Hildegard earned the title of “physician” and the early parts of her career.

Synopsis of The Greenest Branch

Greenest Branch eBook Cover Large

(From the Amazon description)

The year is 1115, and Germany is torn apart by a conflict between the Emperor and the Pope over who should have the right to appoint bishops and control the empire’s vast estates. In that atmosphere, young Hildegard is sent to the Abbey of St. Disibod in the Rhineland as her parents’ gift to the Church in accordance with a custom known as the tithe.

Hildegard has a deep love of nature and a knowledge of herbal healing that might make more than one Church official suspicious of witchery, and she hopes to purse medical studies at St. Disibod. But no sooner does she settle into her new life than she finds out that as a girl she will not be allowed to attend the monastic school or use the abbey’s library; instead, she must stay at the women’s convent, isolated from the rest of the community and from the town. It might seem that Hildegard’s dreams have quickly come to an end. Yet she refuses to be sidelined.

Against fierce opposition from Prior Helenger, the hostile head of the monks’ cloister, she finds another way to learn – by securing an apprenticeship with Brother Wigbert who runs the infirmary and is in dire need of a capable assistant. Under his supervision, she begins to train as the abbey’s first female physician and makes rapid progress. When Hildegard’s reputation starts to spread throughout the Rhineland, Helenger’s persecution escalates as he fears losing control over the women’s community. But that is not the only challenge she must grapple with. She has also developed feelings for Volmar, a fellow Benedictine novice, that force Hildegard to re-examine the fundamental assumptions she has made about her life. Is the practice of medicine within the monastic confines her true calling, or is a quiet existence of domestic contentment more desirable?

With the pressures mounting and threatening to derail her carefully-laid plans, Hildegard becomes locked in a struggle that will either earn her an unprecedented freedom or relegate her to irrevocable oblivion.

The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the true story of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician and one of the few women to attain that position in medieval Europe. Set against the backdrop of the lush oak forests and sparkling rivers of the Rhineland, it is a tale of courage, strength, sacrifice, and love that will appeal to fans of Ken Follett, Umberto Eco, Elizabeth Chadwick, Margaret Frazer, Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, and to anyone who enjoys strong female protagonists in historical fiction.

 

My Thoughts

Every word of this book is beautiful. The phrasing, the description. P.K. Adams’ talent for writing is evident upon each page of this notable tale.

True to Hildegard’s life, this book has a slow and perhaps flat plot, but I appreciate the author’s honest recount of the physician’s life. At several points I wished Adams had turned up the tension just a bit more, especially with Hildegard’s potential love interest, but in the Author’s Note in the back, Adams admits such events were already heightened for the sake of the book. Life is often not a perfect story arc or action-packed and I respect the author’s choice to stay true to history. Most historical fiction fans will feel the same.

That being said, the antagonist in this book is Medieval German society and the prejudice Hildegard has to overcome to foster her gift. Adams strikes a fantastic balance in the voice of this novel. Hildegard’s frustration comes across but in balance with how a Sister would have honored the Church, its customs, and her superiors even if they often stand in her way. This is a story I easily related to as a female engineer: how sometimes you just want to scream, but swallow battle losses for the sake of the larger war.

I also loved how historical detail was woven perfectly into the plot. P.K. Adams subtly weaves in the details of how a medieval abbey functioned without a single line of “information dump.” Every detail from religious tradition to the medicinal use of herbs flows naturally from the narrator.

Hildegard would be honored to have her tale captured in such beautiful words and by a female author nonetheless. P.K. Adams has honored Hildegard’s memory and story in a exquisite novel I highly recommend. I can’t wait for part 2.


Order the The Greenest Branch on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Learn more about The Greenest Branch from GoodReads


PKAdams

About The Author
P.K. Adams is a Boston-based historical fiction author, whose debut novel The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a master’s degree in European Studies from Yale. When not reading or writing, she can be found hiking, doing yoga, and drinking tea (though usually not at the same time).

Learn more about P.K. Adams at her website and @pk_adams.


 

 

Book Review

Book Review: War of the Roses: Stormbird

StormbirdSynopsis
(Adapted from the back cover)

This is the first book in #1 New York Times bestselling author Conn Iggulden’s historical series about two families that plunged England into a devastating, decades-long civil war.

In 1437, the Lancaster king Henry VI ascends the throne of England after years of semi-peaceful regency. Named “The Lamb,” Henry is famed more for his gentle and pious nature than his father’s famous battlefield exploits; already, his dependence on his closest men has stirred whispers of weakness at court.

A secret truce negotiated with France to trade British territories for a royal bride—Margaret of Anjou—sparks revolts across English territory. The rival royal line, the House of York, sees the chaos brought on by Henry’s weakness and with it the opportunity to oust an ineffectual king.

As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who or what can save the kingdom before it is too late?

My Thoughts

I wanted to love this book which came highly recommended to me by several fans of Tudor historical fiction and perhaps my expectations were too high.

Compared to a history text, this is a vivid recount of the prelude for my favorite period in history. Compared to a fiction novel, the the lack of character development and story line struggled to hold my attention. There is no twist, no foreshadowing, no surprise or tension. I predict a reader’s reaction to this Stormbird is probably dependent upon their expectation at page one.

There are a lot of characters in Stormbird – so many that I’m not sure “character” is the correct description, more name dropping at times. I get it, it’s a complicated historical story, but I still want to be entertained. Because there are so many characters I felt none of them are truly developed. Margaret of Anjou is the closest but she follows a predicable, dull path from naive child to protective queen without significant challenge or conflict. Even though this is a fictional recount of a true story and I knew the ending, I still longed for a character to cheer for or to sneer at. I felt disconnected from everyone which left me unconnected to every event.

That being said, I still finished the book, though I expect that is more due to my love for Tudor history than the writing. Despite being 460 pages (and ~100 pages too long), Stormbird is a fast read. The voice is simple which aids skimming  (which I found myself doing fairly often.)

The Historical Notes at the end were my favorite part. As a historical fiction author I appreciate how Iggulden manipulated history to weave his book and how he reveals what was his imagination and which parts are rooted in historical evidence. The historical notes heightened my appreciate for the piece and left me feeling more satisfied than I expected. It will be a while before I would consider tackling book #2, but I just might…

 

Book Review

Book Review: Fifty-One by Chris Barnham

38487634Synopsis:

Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong, stranding Jake in war-ravaged 1944. Jake’s team, including his long-time girlfriend, is desperate to trace him before something else goes wrong.

Stuck in the past, Jake must pull from his training and blend in. He clings to the one familiar face he can find, Amy Jenkins, a war widow whose life he saved during the assignment. Drawn to each other by their loneliness and thrown together amid the terror of war, Jake and Amy look to a future together.

But Jake’s future cannot let him go. And when his bosses finally find him in 1944, Jake faces a terrible choice: risk unraveling the modern world, or let Amy die.

My Thoughts

My biggest pet peeve with fiction is Deus ex machina and coincidences. I was frustrated many times while reading Fifty-One due to apparent coincidences in the plot, but in the end, it turns out they were not coincidences at all. (Wow!!) I usually can predict endings but not for this one, this one blew me away.

Barnham’s attention to detail is impressive and the little nuances through out the time travel plot are delightful. I enjoyed the historical aspects of war-torn London and the evident research that went into the writing.

This story is more a thought exercise than a romance – which I appreciated, though I do wish some key scenes would have been between Amy and Jake instead of through a different POV (I especially would have liked to have seen more of Amy’s reaction to 2040). But that is a small wish considering I couldn’t put down the last half of the book. And that ending…

Buy link

About the Author

Chris Barnham worked for two decades for the British government, advising Ministers on education and employment policies. In 2013, he decided it was time to make stuff up for himself. He now combines writing with running a small business, and active involvement in community politics in south London, where he has lived since the 1980s. His short fiction has appeared in a range of magazines, including Compelling Science Fiction, Black Static, the UK’s premier horror magazine, and the late-lamented Pan Books of Horror. His first novel, Among the Living, was published in 2012 (revised 2nd edition, 2017).

Chris lives in London, England, with three tall children and a scary wife. Whenever work allows, he spends as much time as possible out of town with mud on his boots. His latest walking challenge is the 630-mile South West Coast Path, around the Devon and Cornwall coasts. You can follow his (slow) progress on his blog.

https://www.chrisbarnhambooks.com/

https://twitter.com/barnham_chris

Book Review

Book Review: In Defense of Innocense (Adult Thriller)

In Defense of Innocence_

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of this incredible debut thriller, In Defense of Innocence, which follows Janice Williams, the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Child Sex Crimes Division.

Janice’s hunt for pedophiles is more than a job, it is her obsession. But limited by protocol and regulation, she is unable to keep up with a vigilante who vows to avenge children in ways Janice cannot. Now forced to protect those she has convicted, Janice’s resolve is further conflicted when it becomes clear the murderer has an inside connection.

The sensitive topic initially made me unsure about this book, but I loved every minute of this read and highly recommend the novel. The narriative keeps primary focus on Janice’s investigation and the unknown vigilante’s hunt, without treading into uncomfortable ground. It is a commentary about Candandian law and a fantastic turn on a thrilling man-hunt.

Beautifully written, In Defense of Innocence is a wild ride with multiple climaxes that keeps the pages turning. A masterful use of changing narration point-of-view furthers the storytelling and challenges the reader’s allegiance.

Who will you root for, those who enforce the law or the one who accomplishes what the law cannot? 


Dave WIn Defense of Innocence is a debut novel from Dave Wickenden. Wickenden says he is an individual who is grabs life by the reigns and doesn’t let go – and his bio backs up the claim. He spent time in the Canadian Armed Forces before the Fire Service, so is as comfortable with a rocket launcher as a fire hose. He has brought six people back from the dead utilizing CPR and a defibrillator and has assisted in rescuing people in crisis. He has learnt to lead men and women in extreme environments. He loves to cook, read and draw. Wickenden ran his own home based custom art business creating highly detailed wood and paper burnings called pyrography. One of his pictures of form Prime Minister Jean Chretien graces the walls of Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

At home in Canada, Wickenden and his wife Gina are parents to three boys and three grandsons. His two youngest boys are busy with minor hockey and fishing, so you can guess where you’ll find Wickenden when he’s not writing.

After 31 years in the fire Service and attaining the rank of Deputy Fire Chief, Wickenden retired to write thriller novels full time. He has been a member of the Sudbury Writer’s Guild since 2014.



In Defense of Innocence releases April 16, 2018 but you can pre-order it now. Wickenden’s second book, Homegrown, will be out in the summer of 2018. Both novels are published by Crave Press

Find In Defense of Innocence at: